Once again technology seems to be the spirit of the age. While The Daily Telegraph warns of another looming financial Armageddon the TechMARK index stands at its highest level ever. Big Data, cloud computing and smartphones are just the thin end of the wedge. Artificial Intelligence is now what its about. The creation of a fully automated “global world” (ugh!).
It seems to me that a lot of this new technology is not driven by human want or need but by massive corporations with massive amounts of cash and nowhere to put it. The world economy is shafted and they can’t make money from existing industries so they’re inventing new markets. For the economy this could be a good thing but for humanity, I’m not so sure.
Take driverless cars for example. For decades there has been no great demand for this. In 2014 there were 1,775 road deaths in the UK. A lot admittedly and arguably the media should be more upset about this than the handful of deaths caused by terrorism but as a society we are inured to road deaths. The government, the car industry and the population have agreed to turn a blind eye to road casualties probably for two reasons: First driving is so bloody useful and secondly because it’s great fun.
However, driverless cars are the now the thing and it can’t be long before Brad Pitt emerges from a driverless car at the Oscars. As technology improves and stats emerge that driverless cars are safer than cars driven by people expect to face a barage of stories to frighten us into allowing laws banning human piloted automobiles. All in the interests of road safety you understand. (Ka-Ching!).
Of course driverless cars will be safer but they’ll also means a further step in the absolute pacification of mankind. While we’re driven to work in our air conditioned personal transport pods – lights flashing and the voice of Stephen Hawking announcing “Attention, vehicle in motion” – we’ll need something to entertain at us.
We’ll need to “consume” more shit films or TV programs about cake. We’ll watch music videos of some blond millionaire twenty something from Los Angeles telling us how she’s had it tough but is sticking it to the man and we can all be like her by paying for her music. We’ll play Grand Theft Auto and pretend we’re speeding around Los Santos in a Porsche rather than trundling along at a constant 30 miles per hour in a creaking plastic box from a dormitory housing estate near Chelmsford to a job at a factory office near Stratford.
Technology peaked in the 1940s with the introduction of the home freezer, everything that followed has been efficiency gains, keeping up with the Jones’ or, as Herman Hesse would have it: “…no more service to man than as an escape from himself and his true aims, and a means of surrounding himself with an ever closer mesh of distractions and useless activities”.
Hesse didn’t understand the half of it. In the 21st century, we are busy constructing the dystopia that previous generations only read about.